Traumatic brain injury (TBI) and substance use disorder share many symptoms, and one condition may often complicate the other. Experts from the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) discussed the problems service members can face when the two conditions intersect during a webinar hosted by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.
Research shows that substance misuse is responsible for 37-50 percent of all TBIs. The majority of individuals who experience a TBI have a history of substance misuse, which often continues after the injury. In addition, a TBI itself can lead to substance misuse, said Lars Hungerford, a senior clinical research director for DVBIC.
“TBI is actually a risk factor for binge drinking, even after controlling for PTSD and demographic factors,” Hungerford said.
Substance misuse, particularly alcohol use, can complicate TBI in several ways:
- Increased likelihood of another TBI. That’s because substance misuse can impair balance, coordination and judgment.
- Lowered seizure threshold. TBI may increase the risk of seizure from drinking, and alcohol can impede anti-seizure medications.
- Delayed or halted brain recovery. Alcohol can cause inflammation of the brain, which inhibits its ability to heal.